Massive influx of WA ferry travelers expected this summer

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released its Memorial Day Weekend travel charts, noting when and where a higher volume of traffic is expected. Much like the highways, Washington State Ferries (WSF) is expecting a massive influx of travelers that weekend, too. 

WSF spokesperson Ian Sterling said about 350,000 people are expected to take the ferries that holiday weekend, but the ferry fleet is still below capacity.

Sterling told FOX 13 that WSF hired hundreds of people to prepare for their busiest time of year.

"We carry double the number of passengers during the summer months as we do the winter months," Sterling said. "This is our Super Bowl." 

He said despite the lower number of vessels in operation, WSF is rolling into the season in a much better position than where they were in years past.

"Ferries is not in a crisis, ferries is in a recovery mode and we’re clawing our way back and we’re seeing in ridership levels, the number of completed sailings we have, which are 99% plus successful," Sterling said. 

However, the agency continues to grapple with an ongoing issue: the lack of vessels they have. 

"So we’ve got a 21-vessel fleet right now. To really run what we were doing pre-pandemic we need 26 boats, so we’re definitely short on vessels. We’re operating 15 right now and that’s primarily due to staff," Sterling said. 

WSF is looking to add five more vessels to its fleet. The difficulty is that it takes a few years to build a ferry. The agency hopes to have more than one ferry being built at once. 

Since the Memorial Day Weekend holiday is such a busy time for travel, Sterling advises drivers to be patient. 

"Just like the freeway, there's a rush hour." 

People boarding a state ferry by vehicle should prepare for long waits. Peak travel times on most routes are expected to be westbound Thursday through Saturday, May 25-27, and eastbound, Saturday through Monday, May 27-29. Customers can bypass vehicle lines by traveling as a walk-on passenger.

  • All riders should double-check the sailing schedules as some routes are operating on timetables that are different than prior to the pandemic.
  • Visit the Washington State Ferries website for more details on vehicle reservations, rider alerts and checking terminal conditions.

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